Let us now kick someone else’s genre

Yes, it’s definitely that time of year again, at least in the UK.

Yesterday, we had Stephen Hunt complaining about anti-speculative fiction bias on The Culture Show and today we have M. John Harrison complaining about an admittedly stupid Guardian article introducing the twelve supposedly best new literary novelists selected on behalf of – you guessed it – The Culture Show. And just in case you missed that M. John Harrison really disagrees with that Guardian article (and presumably The Culture Show), he also has a follow-up post.

I actually agree with Harrison’s point, because that Guardian article truly is eyerollingly stupid. While I read through the whole thing, I kept thinking, “Oh my, the Guardian just discovered postmodernism. And experimental fiction. And magical realism. And the existence of calculatedly literary fiction in general. So what was the frontpage headline then? Kennedy shot? Vietnam War ends?”

And for that matter, why is the Guardian considered a high quality paper again? Sure, it is better than Rupert Murdoch’s output, not that that’s much of a trick. But considering how often the Guardian pisses me of, I wonder why I keep bothering?

However, M. John Harrison can’t seem to make his point without getting in a sly dig at “no-fuck vampire romances” and “the high-performing post-Austen industry”. Because the proper response to insults to one’s own genre (whether that genre is literary fiction or speculative fiction or something else altogether) is insulting some other genre. Bonus points if you manage to insult a genre dominated by women writers (as both paranormal romances and Austen pastiches and sequels are), because those have a lower prestige in general.

What is more, it seems as if Mr. Harrison hasn’t actually read all that many vampire romances, because there are hardly any that don’t feature any sex whatsoever. Even Twilight has sex (with the bedroom door closed) in Breaking Dawn.

PS: After having seen it painted as the speculative fiction hating bête noir two days in a row, I now really want to watch The Culture Show. Because I have a weakness for snooty culture programs.

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2 Responses to Let us now kick someone else’s genre

  1. Kaz Augustin says:

    You bring up a great sideways point, Cora. I have always loved M John Harrison’s prose. His books, “The Pastel City” and “A Storm of Wings” are, imo, classics of futuristic fantasy. So when he came out with “Light” recently, I jumped on it!

    I won’t give anything away but I was bitterly and utterly disappointed. And I kept getting the same idea over and over as the novel progressed. “Doesn’t Harrison like women?” Because there seemed to be a lot of pointless violence towards women in the novel; exactly how pointless, we find out at the end. And I was taken aback and puzzled and disappointed and kept thinking that I must be missing something. But maybe if he knocks genres dominated by women then I wonder if there’s a grain of hidden truth regarding his attitude to women in Light’s violence? Also, I notice that his post is closed to comments, so he’s happy to put it out there, but obviously not to keen to engage with dissenting views.

    Food for thought.

    • Cora says:

      I read Light several years ago on the enthusiastic recommendation of some friends and wound up deeply disappointed as well. That was before I found out that those friends – while highly passionate about SF and fantasy – had tastes that did not match mine a tall, because I usually wound up hating anything they recommended. I don’t think I ever bothered with the follow-up, Nova Swing.

      The almost reflexive bashing of genres and subgenres dominated by women is very common in the speculative fiction community. I’d almost go as far as to say that there is a definite undercurrent of misogynism running through the SFF community, even though (male) writers and commenters will always emphatically deny this whenever called on it. “No, I didn’t mean it that way. It was just a joke. No, I really love women. I have a wife/girlfriend/daughter. I like this or that female author.” Then they inevitably list the same five female writers.

      I don’t think the latent misogynism found in much of the SFF community is deliberate or conscious, but it’s definitely there. And it manifests itself in the bashing of female dominated subgenres as much as in the attitude towards female characters.

      As for M. John Harrison’s blog, he seems to have turned off comments in general, because comments are closed on all of his recent posts. Which is problematic, but then he may have had bad experiences with trolls. Or maybe he just doesn’t like replying to comments and deleting spam.

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